July 21, 2015 – Portage Valley, Alaska – Several visits and stays here as I came and went. The portage valley extends down from Portage Glacier to Turnagain arm right near the neck of the Kenai Peninsula. Under the mountain at the top of the valley runs a car/railroad tunnel to Whittier perched on the shores of Prince William Sound. At a campground here at the base of towering mountains I experienced the “Williwaw” wind at the USFS campground of the same name.
Williwaw Campground was home several times on this trip. Williwaw is the name of a wind that comes blasting down off of high mountains. The cold glaciers and snowfields cool the surface air and it starts to descend driven by gravity. This should heat the air, but it is passing over more snow so it cools further and accelerates. The result is a very strong localized gust of wind. This campground sits at the base of a tall mountain that is primed for this kind of action. I weathered out a storm that passed through here and experienced the gusts rocking the trailer as I read a book and sorted pictures on the computer. The next morning I came out and the trailer was covered with small bits of torn leaves, while the pavement looked like someone had been through cleaning with a blower. One of the days I was there was sunny and I managed to get the drone up in the air for a few minutes. One of the few times I used the generator was here to charge up the drone’s batteries as the AC charger won’t run on my 150 watt inverter.
The Portage Glacier has receded quite a distance over time leaving a lake behind its “terminal moraine”, a wide pile of rocks that marks its furthest progress down the valley. There is a nice visitor’s center here, and around the side of the lake is a dock where you can take a boat up the lake around the corner, to see the glacier itself.
Just before the road reaches the Whittier Tunnel there is a little parking lot with a view of the lake. Here there is also a small trail down to the water through the thick undergrowth. This is a put-in point for a short paddle up the lake connecting to the Portage Pass trail. Like several other places where I was tempted to go paddling, I chose not to paddle solo for safety reasons.
On July 21st I headed in to Whittier from Williwaw. The park had a host, and was pretty quiet, so I felt comfortable leaving the trailer for the day. Access to Whittier is through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, under snow covered Maynard Mountain. The tunnel is opened alternately for trains and wheeled traffic. Being a single lane they hold traffic on each side in a staging area. It takes about six minutes to drive through the 2.5 mile long one lane tunnel. Two reasons for leaving the trailer behind were the extra fare for the tunnel, and limited parking in Whittier. This worked out well. The tunnel parallels the historical route over Portage Pass and the then much larger Portage Glacier and much smaller Portage Lake.